Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been interpreted by many courts to include websites as places of public accommodation. Because of this, numerous entities – from sole proprietors to the biggest corporations – have received demand letters or had lawsuits filed against them.
Today, we look at some of the household names who have been in the news because of web accessibility litigation.
Companies Sued Over Website Accessibility
Title III ADA lawsuits and settlements can affect companies of all sizes across a wide range of industries. Below are just some of the most high-profile cases to make headlines in recent years.
In 2012, the National Association of the Deaf brought a lawsuit against streaming service Netflix for failing to provide adequate closed captioning on most of its “Watch Instantly” content. At the time, the streaming service landscape was much less abundant than it is now: Netflix was the only major online-only movie-watching service, making the disparity in access for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing that much more significant.
Five years after the Netflix case, Florida resident Juan Carlos Gil sued grocery store chain Winn-Dixie in what was deemed the first trial of its kind. The judge ruled that because Winn-Dixie’s website was so heavily integrated with its physical stores, it was subject to accessibility requirements outlined in the ADA. This case – resting on the complaint that the website was not accessible to visually impaired users relying on screen reader technology – helped paved the way for many similar cases listed below.
A 2017 ADA lawsuit against the meal kit service Blue Apron made a media splash precisely because it lacks a brick-and-mortar store. As such, this was another early ADA lawsuit highlighting the importance not just of physical accessibility but also digital accessibility.
This lawsuit helped clarify the importance of website accessibility in ADA Title III, making clear that even companies that have no physical premises can be sued for ADA violation if their websites – their primary “place” of business – is not accessible.
Nike came under fire in 2017 because both websites it operates – Nike.com and Converse.com – were inaccessible to visually impaired users, a very common violation of Title III website accessibility guidelines.
Visually impaired users rely on screen-reading software to read text from a website aloud. For this software to work, websites have to be designed to be compatible with it. Nike, along with many of the other companies on this list, failed to design its website to be usable with screen readers, meaning visually impaired users could not use or make purchases from its sites without assistance.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
Another company sued in 2017 over barriers to accessibility for blind and visually impaired users was Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The class action lawsuit was almost dismissed before a judge ruled that Five Guys’ website did in fact fall under the ADA, since the websites’ incompatibility with screen readers made it impossible for visually impaired users to order food from the site independently (i.e., without assistance from someone without visual impairments).
Believe it or not, the world’s top ecommerce service was sued as recently as 2018 over accessibility barriers to users who are blind or visually impaired. Like many other cases on this list, the main complaints were an inability to use screen readers on the website, as well as incompatibility with refreshable Braille displays. The ADA lawsuit ended in a settlement.
Beyonce Knowles (Park Entertainment)
On January 3, 2019, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Beyonce Knowles’ company, Park Entertainment, because the website that sold concert tickets and other goods and services related to Beyonce’s music was missing several fundamentals of website accessibility.
That included a lack of alt text for important images (alt text is necessary for visually impaired users who use screen readers to describe images), inaccessible drop-down menus and navigation buttons, and the inability to use a keyboard instead of a mouse. The class-action lawsuit focused particularly on users who are legally blind – a category that includes a range of visual impairment, not just total blindness.
This high-profile Title III ADA lawsuit settlement put the spotlight on some of the most fundamental elements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
In an ADA lawsuit settlement very similar to the ones brought against Nike and Beyonce’s company, a blind man named Guillermo Robles sued Domino’s Pizza in 2019 over violations of ADA Title III. According to the complaint, he could not order food from the Domino’s website and app despite using screen-reading software. Robles won the case, setting a powerful example for businesses.
Another major restaurant corporation sued over the inaccessibility of their website for visually impaired users is Burger King. In early 2018, the company was sued by a visually impaired woman who claimed she could not use the website without assistance. Once again, one of the leading accessibility issues cited was a lack of ability to use screen readers on the site, making it impossible for visually impaired users to engage with the site’s visual content.
Fox News Network
Fox News Network was the target of a class action lawsuit that resulted in a settlement in 2018. Many of the complaints in the Fox case were similar to those in other cases on this list, creating barriers for users with visual impairments. These included a lack of alt text for images and links, as well as redundant or empty links that hampered keyboard-based navigation for blind or visually impaired users.
Tips for WCAG 2.1 Conformance
Whether your organization is already involved in litigation or is proactive with accessibility, the best course of action is to make your website or mobile app conformant with WCAG 2.1 AA.
WCAG stands for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines provide ways to increase the accessibility of your digital assets.
As a start, we recommend the following tips:
- Fix the technical basics. The most common ADA lawsuit complaints about websites are missing alt text, missing labels, empty links, redundant links, and missing page titles. For apps, they include incompatibility with screen reader technology, missing alt text, and missing navigation links.
- Don’t rely on widgets. Several recent ADA lawsuit settlements have involved companies relying on accessibility widgets that are marketed as automated fix-all solutions but which have been proven largely ineffective.
- Include people with disabilities in your user testing. Though automated scans are a helpful first step in identifying problems, they cannot always emulate the nuances of human interactions with digital interfaces. User testing that includes people with disabilities gives you a more holistic picture of your website’s or app’s user experience.
- Commit to long-term maintenance. No software can instantly identify, let alone fix, all of your digital accessibility problems once and for all. The digital landscape is ever-evolving, as are human users. True accessibility requires a long-term, comprehensive digital accessibility testing, remediation, and maintenance program.
In keeping with the recommendations above, our services combine automation with manual auditing for a more comprehensive, Accessibility-as-a-Service approach. To learn more about our extensive range of digital accessibility services designed to help keep you compliant with ADA, AODA, Section 508, and other global regulations, connect with us today.